Jul 10 2012
As always, please see the movie before reading this review.
1. The conflicts within the team and between the teammates and Fury/SHIELD were impeccable. One aspect which lends depth to the conflicts is that most of the character have intelligent reasons to disagree and the writers don’t push viewers to side with one protagonist or another. In contrast, the Fantastic Four’s squabbles are usually driven by someone (or everyone) being an idiot, which mainly leaves me wanting to punch everyone. The scene where the Avengers confront Nick Fury over what he’s been holding back from them is vastly superior to anything in the FF movies.
2. The writing was very fresh and clever. The arc where Loki allows himself to be taken prisoner in an attempt to provoke Bruce Banner into going crazy is a nice play on the (sort-of-tired) trope where a supervillain breaks out of captivity. Additionally, the scene where SHIELD tries to contact Black Widow (who is being interrogated by Russian smugglers) is hilarious.
- BLACK WIDOW: “This is just like in Budapest.” *She stabs an alien in the head.* HAWKEYE: “You and I… remember Budapest very differently.”
3. I believe the main weak point of the movie was the selection of Loki as the main villain—he wasn’t as cost-effective as more limited, terrestrial villains like the Joker, Green Goblin or Obediah Stane. He got better characterization than, say, the alien antagonists in Green Lantern or FF: Silver Surfer, but I don’t believe the movie would have been much worse if all of his lines of dialogue had been cut out. In particular, a character that is based on deception and trickery should develop the plot and characters more with his dialogue than he actually did.
4. Except for possibly Hawkeye, all of the characters contributed enough in terms of plot-impact and interesting moments to merit their spot in the movie. That’s quite a feat for a cast of this size, especially given that some of the characters have overlapping capabilities (e.g. Stark and Banner are both super-scientists and BW/Hawkeye/Captain America have similar skillsets). One technique here which worked out well was using relationships and personality traits to build distinct roles for each character. For example, Captain America and Black Widow are a bit redundant in combat, but Captain America’s more ordinary upbringing and Black Widow’s barely-human upbringing as an elite assassin give them different roles in the plot (particularly non-combat). Captain America’s scene leading NYPD officers strikes me as an example of something BW could not have done, whereas I don’t think Captain America had the personality or manipulation skills to bring Hulk into the fold (at least not like BW did). In contrast, several other really good superhero movies have had characters which could have been removed relatively easily. For example, I think The Incredibles could have axed Violet and Jack-Jack relatively easily, and I’m not sure whether Gwen Stacey’s romance added enough to Amazing Spider-Man to justify its space.
5. The writing for Tony Stark was incredible in Iron Man 1 and 2, but not as stellar here. He didn’t get many opportunities to work his charm here. That said, I loved the line about a life-model decoy and the Stark-Banner-Captain America triangle helped develop a distinct role for each character.
6. Show, don’t tell. Tony Stark says that he’s in love with the brilliant Pepper Potts, but she’s never come across as particularly brilliant and it just sort of comes out of nowhere that she’s technically gifted. In contrast, Tony Stark’s dialogue throughout his movies (even this one) does show him as very bright and charming. Out of all the ladies Tony Stark has dated, I’m not sure why he finds Potts so special.
7. I was apprehensive about the inclusion of the Hulk, but he was extremely effective as a side-character. His movies have averaged 64% on Rotten Tomatoes vs. 81% for the other Avengers. One of the main differences is that maybe 75% of his screen-time is as Bruce Banner rather than the Hulk and the Hulk only gets ~1 line of dialogue (“Puny god”). Joss Whedon’s Banner is a bit more mousy and passive than what we’ve seen before, which helps build some contrast with Stark. Despite his intelligence, he’s arguably the most relatable character on the team.
8. The battles were generally solid but the climactic battle with Loki was lackluster. It lasted about as long as a crocodile eating a doughnut. I think it would have helped if more characters had been involved—if one character on a superhero team can take down the villain alone, making the villain more challenging would probably make him more interesting as an obstacle.
9. I’m pleasantly surprised that the movie avoided using the super-names. You know how Nolan’s Batman movies refer to Batman’s vehicle as “the car” or (once) “the Tumbler” rather than “the Batmobile?” I think Avengers only used “Hulk” twice, “Black Widow” once, and completely skipped over “Iron Man,” “Hawkeye,” and “Captain America.” I thought it made the conversations sound a bit more natural and believable.
- Relatedly, I found it refreshing that Hulk never refers to himself in the third-person.
10. If Spider-Man eventually joins the Avengers, setting the movie in New York City will probably raise suspension-of-disbelief issues for Spider-Man. It feels really off to me that the New York police would take a tough stance against one (well-behaved) superhero so soon after other superheroes saved New York from utter devastation. With superpowered destruction apparently being a remarkably common occurrence in NYC (between the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men), is there any reason that the police would say no to a superhero because he has jeopardized an investigation into a string of car thieves? Moreover, is there any plausible in-story reason the police are angry with Spider-Man rather than, say, a superhero group whose scientific misadventures in downtown Manhattan have threatened perhaps as much destruction as a mid-grade supervillain?
11. I found the shout-outs to sustainable energy mildly annoying. I don’t know… it was probably in-character for Tony Stark, but what about Nick Fury? Would Fury/SHIELD really do dangerous research into a supernatural power source which could attract unwanted attention from hostile aliens? He’s got a flying aircraft carrier. Doesn’t that pretty much rule out that he’d pick environmentalism over security?
12. Ideally, major consequences stem from character decisions and actions. I think the government’s decision to use nuclear weapons against New York City would have been more interesting and threatening if it stemmed from an obvious failure of the Avengers. For example, maybe the President had given the Avengers some deadline (like “You have 2 hours to close the portal, or I will initiate a nuclear launch”), so the protagonists play a more obvious role in the development of the plot.
13. It might have been more interesting if Tony Stark had been lost in space. The conflict/plot would probably have been more memorable if there had been more negative consequences (even medium-term consequences) for the heroes fending off the alien invasion. Killing off* a minor character like Coulson is generally less emotionally powerful than seriously threatening a major character. (In addition, Tony Stark getting lost in space might be an interesting hook for a later movie—can he make his way back before he was lost forever?)
*Assuming he’s actually dead. There are some possible alternatives (e.g. he survived the wound, but Fury had him play dead a la Gordon in Dark Knight).
14. If characters fit into the same role too much, it might tip off observant readers that one or the other will die or be removed. For example, as soon as I saw Maria Hill (SHIELD Deputy Director), I knew Phil Coulson (Nick Fury’s deputy) was going down. Otherwise, why introduce another deputy to Nick Fury? Incidentally, I found Coulson a lot more dramatically fertile than Hill—Hill is, so far, pretty much a clone of Fury, whereas Coulson added some contrast in humanness and relatability.